What Are the Probate Attorney Fees?
Probate attorney fees vary from state to state, but there are two models that are typically used. The way the fees are set is dependent upon the general model for lawyer fees for probate in the state in question.
- Probate Attorney Fee Model 1: Pay the probate attorney out of the estate assets.
- Probate Attorney Fee Model 2: Pay as you go on an hourly basis.
Probate Attorney Fees Model 1
California uses the first model with some variations to protect the beneficiaries of an estate. The probate attorney’s fees are set by statute and are based upon the value of the estate. Note that to protect the beneficiaries, the probate lawyer fees are not paid until the case is closed and the court has ordered payment. This gives the attorney an incentive to close the estate because the lawyer fees for probate are not paid until the case is closed and the beneficiaries are paid. In this model, the attorney fees for probate are paid in a manner roughly equivalent to how a personal injury attorney is paid. That is, most personal injury attorneys are paid when and if the injured party is paid.
In this first model, in California, the probate attorney fees are set by a declining percentage of the gross value of the estate assets, with no discount for debts associated with the estate (like mortgages associated with houses). Specifically, by a declining percentage, the probate fees in California as of March 2014 are:
- 4% of the first $100,000
- 3% of the next $100,000
- 2% of the next $800,000
- 1% of the next $9,000,000.
Probate Attorney Fees Model 2
The second model for the payment of probate attorney fees is the same as the typical model for most attorney’s fees. The attorney is paid on an ongoing basis, typically monthly, based upon his or her normal hourly fee for a probate. This model has some problems built into it since the attorney does not have a monetary stake in closing the estate. In this model, the probate lawyer fees are paid regardless of whether or not the beneficiaries receive anything. This model also creates a tendency to bill for work that is not absolutely required – the legal equivalent of the problem in the world of medicine of doctors ordering unnecessary procedures and/or testing.
In this second model, the hourly fees are agreed upon by the client and the attorney. As a practical matter, the fees are set by the prevailing hourly rates for the attorney in the geographical area in which he or she practices. There is no regulation of the attorney probate fees and no limit to the lawyer fees for probate in this model.
The Law Offices of David Baker has more than 30 years of experience assisting clients with probate in California. If you live in cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Albany, Pinole, Crockett, Martinez, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Vallejo and Richmond and the surrounding areas, give us a call at (510) 724-2020 or contact us for a free consultation.